Friday, 27 February 2015

Teapots and Rodents.

In an earlier post I said that my granddad (Poppa) was taught music at the Sailors Orphan Homes, Newland in Hull.  He found he had a natural aptitude for music and playing various instruments and became a very competent musician playing to a professional standard.  Some years later when he was married he was offered a place in a London orchestra as a full time professional musician but, as he had a very good job in engineering and a family to keep, it was too risky so he declined.  He said to me in later years that he never once regretted his decision, as music was his pleasure and he didn't want it to become just a job.
My Granddad playing his favourite instrument,
the trombone.  Looking at the letters on the piece
of stage set I think this was when he played with
the Bob Walker Dance band.
 
Poppa played in local dance bands, the Grimsby Philharmonic Orchestra and the Grimsby Borough Brass Band. 
My Granddad is on the front row at the extreme right with his trombone.
Just below him can be seen where my mam wrote "Dad" on the photo. 


Granddad can be seen here, 2nd trombone from the right with a tin hat in front of him.
He taught music to young students and many people went on to play in various bands & orchestras around the area and beyond, something he took a great pride in.  The music lessons took place in the "infamous" front room at my grand parents house.  You may recall, it was only used for special occasions, well, it was used for music lessons too.  The pupils would arrive at the front door (another exception to the rule) to avoid having them coming through the house and would disappear into the front room for their lesson.  I would often sit outside the closed door and listen to how the lessons were progressing; maybe that's where my love of music was first formed?
Poppa taught musical theory and also how to play the 3 main instruments that he himself played.  The trombone, clarinet and euphonium. 
He played other instruments and in fact could get a tune out of most of them to a standard that allowed him to deputise at short notice if another band member cried off at the last minute.  I remember once seeing him in the orchestra pit at the Empire Theatre, he had been called in at short notice to replace a member who was ill.  They asked him if he could play the double bass and, despite never having tried it, he said he could!  Afterwards they asked him to be the reserve double bass player.
 
He was once asked to fill in as the percussionist (drummer) in the Grimsby Philharmonic Orchestra, he usually played clarinet but agreed to give it a try.  The occasion was a performance of Tchaikovky's 1812 Overture, a piece of music that required the sound of cannons firing at it's climax and the drummer was expected to produce this sound effect.  As the drummer was positioned at the very back of the orchestra on a raised part of the stage, poppa arranged for a tin bath to be positioned behind him.  At the required point in the music he dropped large chunks of coal over the back of the staging to crash into the bath, making loud booming sounds.  It was a huge success but quite difficult as he had to calculate the delay in the drop to coincide precisely with when the cannons should go off!
 
You'll probably appreciate how proud I am of my granddad's musical abilities, he could in fact play any instrument and to quote him he "could get a tune out of anything".  This was very true, his party trick was to put a trombone mouthpiece into the spout of a teapot and play a very good tune on it using the lid to change the notes by raising and lowering it!  He also did a pretty good impression of a set of bagpipes by putting the mouthpiece into a length of hosepipe and swing it around while "playing it".
Poppa had a selection of mouthpieces for several instruments that he had made himself.  he was a metal turner on the docks and any scrap end of brass rod would be turned to produce a new mouthpiece.  Many musicians around the town where grateful to Poppa for their custom made mouthpieces!
 
As I've already said, Poppa was a Metal Turner working on Grimsby Docks for Bacons Engineering.  In those days Grimsby was a very large, busy port with fishing boats and commercial boats which all needed regular repairs and maintenance.  He worked on all the engines and made replacement parts for them. When a boat came into port needing a spare part he would go on-board, measure the part and then return to the workshop to make it.  The parts were exposed to severe friction and wear so needed regular replacement. From very early on he started to keep a notebook of all the boats and the parts that were needed so, when he was summoned to go and measure for a new part he only needed to look up the boat & part in his book and get straight on with it.  I still have that notebook and have reproduced a couple of pages here.  The book is very dirty, remember his hands would be very grimy and oil covered, time has faded it somewhat but it's still possible to read the names of some of the boats.  On the right side I can just make out "Locarno" and "Shepherd Lad".  The rest doesn't mean a lot to me.
Poppa's job record book.
Once a week my mam had to go down dock, I'll tell you why another time, and sometimes I would accompany her.  Before going home we would go to see Poppa at his workshop on Fishdock Road where I could watch him working for a few minutes.  Just before we left he would stop his lathe and let me pull the big handle (it seemed big to me but probably wasn't) to start it turning again!  I remember the loud rumble and the floor starting to shake.  Health and Safety Regulations hadn't been though of in the early 1950's, these days a small boy would not be allowed to even enter the building. 
 
One last story about Poppa.  He often related the time he was working, in the middle of the morning, in bright daylight, when he and his workmates heard a strange sound outside.  When they went to the door the whole street, from one side to the other was a sea of rats!  They stretched for as far as the eye could see and where running past at an alarming speed, Poppa said it seemed an age before they all passed.  No-one knew where they had come from, where they went, or why they had stampeded.